Notes on Rowe’s Philosophy of Religion, Ch. 11 – “Many Religions”
1. The Problem:
1.1 There are many, many religions in the world
1.2 The teachings of these religions seem to be logically incompatible with one another
1.2.1 Ultimate reality: personal or impersonal? One god or many?
1.2.2 Human life: cycle of life, death, and rebirth, or a single, finite earthly life followed by a single, unending afterlife?
1.2.3 Ultimate human destiny: lose individual consciousness and merge with ultimate reality, or retain individual consciousness and distinctness?
1.2.4 Locus of revelation: the Bible? The Torah? The Koran? The Bhagavad-Gita?
1.2.5 Incarnation of the divine: never? Once only? Many times?
1.2.6 The diagnosis of the human condition: Sin? Ignorance? Something else?
1.2.7 The cure of the human condition: atonement and grace? Enlightenment and action? Something else?
1.2.8 And on and on it goes with the differences among religions
1.3 If so, then they can’t all be true in any literal sense
1.4 Therefore, at least some religions have false views about at least some of these things
1.4.1 Many say that all religions are true for the believers of each religion
1.4.2 But this can’t be right in any literal sense
1.4.3 What people mean here is the harmless claim that people in the various religions believe that the tenets of their religion are true, which is of no help in resolving the problem
1.5 So, how should believers within the various religions view the matter of religious diversity?
2. The Exclusivist Response:
2.1 Exclusivism: Only one religion is true, and one cannot be saved, enlightened, or what have you, without explicitly embracing that religion
2.2 How religions become exclusivistic
2.2.1 People didn’t know about the religions of distant cultures when their religions originated
2.2.2 It naturally arose with the rise of monotheism – one God, one faith, one means of salvation
2.3 Criticisms of exclusivism
2.3.1 It implies that vast multitudes of people are damned as a result of something morally irrelevant, viz., living in a time and region of the globe in which the exclusive religion is unknown
2.3.2 It implies that many morally and spiritually developed and religiously devoted individuals – indeed, saints – in religions outside of the true religion are damned, merely because they didn’t respond positively to the message of the relevant exclusive religion (think “Gandhi” – damned? Is Mother Theresa damned because she’s not a Muslim?)
3. The Inclusivist Response:
3.1 Inclusivism: Only one religion is true, but the god of that religion also saves virtuous believers of other religions.
3.2 Criticism of inclusivism: it’s unjustifiably dogmatic
3.2.1 The evidence for the truth of each religion is the same
18.104.22.168 religious experiences
22.214.171.124 personal transformation
3.2.2 But if so, then there are only two possible rational responses to take about this
126.96.36.199 no religious beliefs are justified, since the evidence from the experiences and personal transformations that occur in each religion mutually cancel each other out
188.8.131.52 (the pluralist option – see below) each religion, while not strictly speaking “true”, is (roughly) equally effective as a means of (i) contact with the divine and (ii) a means of personal transformation
3.2.3 It would be unreasonable to say that although the experience and personal transformation that occur in one’s own religion is roughly the same as that in the other religions, those of the other religions are illusory, while those of one’s own are authentic and accurate reflections of ultimate, divine reality (for the reason, see 184.108.40.206)
4. The Pluralist Response
4.1 Pluralism: The view that the various religions are culturally conditioned interpretations and conceptualizations of a single underlying divine reality. Each is equally valid as a means of contact with the divine, and as a vehicle of salvation, transformation, and/or liberation.
4.2 Key features of Hick’s pluralism
4.2.1 There is a distinction between the Real-as-it-is-in-itself, and the Real-as- it-is-experienced-by-us
220.127.116.11 the Real as it is in itself = the divine as it really is
18.104.22.168 the Real as it is experienced by us = the experiences of the divine + the interpretive frameworks that are the various religious traditions in which they occur
4.2.2 We can’t have direct contact with the Real as it is in itself, and thus none of our concepts of the divine really apply to it
4.2.3 Rather, we can only have direct contact with the Real as it is experienced by us – i.,e., we can only have direct contact with various manifestations and experiences of the real in various religions, which are shaped by our cultural and religious interpretive frameworks
4.2.4 Strictly speaking, the religions of the world are all false, in the sense that they are not accurate representations of the Real as it is in itself
4.2.5 However, they’re true in the sense that they are accurate representations of the Real as it is experienced by us
4.3 Hick’s argument for pluralism:
4.3.1 There are three possible explanations of religious diversity:
22.214.171.124 Skepticism: diversity shows that no religion is true; they’re all illusory
126.96.36.199 Dogmatism: one religion is true, and all the others are illusory. Diversity is to be handled be adopting some form of exclusivism or inclusivism
4.3.2 But the hypothesis of pluralism is the best explanation of the facts:
188.8.131.52 It explains, better than skepticism and dogmatism, why people in various religious traditions have experiences that seem to be of the divine
184.108.40.206 It explains, better than skepticism and dogmatism, why the various religions are each (roughly) equally effective in transforming people from being self-centered to Reality-centered
4.4 Criticisms of pluralism
4.4.1 It claims that none of our concepts of the divine apply to Real as it is in itself. But if not, then how can we even claim that the Real is divine?
4.4.2 It claims that the Real as it is in itself is neither personal nor impersonal, neither one being nor many beings, etc. But on the face of it, this seems to be logically impossible – necessarily, the Real as it is in itself is either a person or it isn’t; necessarily, the Real as it is in itself is either one being or it isn’t, etc.
4.4.3 If literally nothing at all can be known of the Real as it is in itself, then, contrary to what Hick says, it seems that it can’t function as an explanation of religious diversity – since it can do no explanatory work at all.
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